Union wants partnership talks on health insurance


Dealing with the "health insurance crisis" will be a top priority for unions in any forthcoming partnership talks, one of the country's biggest unions has claimed.

Amicus, which represents more than 50,000 finance, manufacturing and public sector employees, claimed the threat of insolvency facing the VHI was "real and distinct".

It accused Minister for Health Mary Harney of playing "Russian roulette" with the healthcare of VHI's 1.5 million subscribers.

The State-owned health insurer warned last week that it could be insolvent within two years and said it was set to lose up to €40 million this year.

It blamed the insolvency threat on the refusal of Ms Harney to introduce risk equalisation to the health insurance market.

This would have meant that the VHI's biggest competitor, Bupa, would have had to pay it more than €30 million next year to compensate it for the fact that the State operator's customers are older and, therefore, less profitable than Bupa's.

The system is intended to support a community-rated scheme, under which health insurers must offer everybody the same level of cover for the same price, no matter what the risk.

The Health Insurance Authority recommended that Ms Harney introduce risk equalisation. However, late last month she announced she would not do this until the process of transforming the VHI from a statutory body to a commercial State company was under way. Amicus national secretary John Tierney said the demand for Ms Harney to introduce risk equalisation would not go away.

He added that at the recent plenary session of the social partners trade unions had made it clear the health insurance "crisis" would be one of its top priorities in any new partnership talks.

Negotiations on a successor programme to Sustaining Progress are expected to take place later in the year.

Mr Tierney said a consultants' report commissioned by Amicus, which was released in April, had highlighted the unstable state of the health insurance market.

Mr Tierney said if the VHI collapsed, its 1.5 million subscribers would be forced to rely on an already over-stretched public health system.